Conference abstract: Twitter as youth voice: How do social media enable us to listen to young people?

This is the abstract from a conference presentation (presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, September 2014). This was a follow-up to the published chapter Casey, Hill and Goodyear (2014) “PE doesn’t stand for physical education, it stands for public embarrassment” Voicing Experiences and Proffering Solutions to Girls’ Disengagement in PE, https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781475808308

Joanne Hill, Ashley Casey and Victoria Goodyear

With a concern around the quality and rigour of change knowledge for girls’ (dis)engagement in physical education (Oliver and Kirk, 2013), teachers and researchers are increasingly concerned with listening to young people’s inputs in working towards relevant and enjoyable learning experiences (Thompson, 2008). Youth voice is usually understood through verbal and/or visual methods and with small groups (Azzarito and Kirk, 2012; O’Sullivan and MacPhail, 2010).
The purpose of this study is to explore how Twitter acts as a virtual space to listen to youth voice and understand the construction of identities.
Yet with the rapid emergence and global use of social media (Fullan, 2013), sites such as Twitter may offer an alternative way in which to listen to a broad range of youth voices. Indeed, through tweets and retweets youth (and others) can express their voices publicly and in doing so, construct their identities in a virtual space (Abiala and Hernwall, 2013; Marwick and boyd, 2011). Formats including social media have been identified as fruitful sources in digital sociology (Murthy, 2008), although the extent to which Twitter specifically can be used for accessing and understanding youth voice is less known.
Using the application twitonomy, we harvested tweets from girls containing the phrases “I hate PE” and “I love PE”. Analysis occurred through a triad test (Ryan and Bernard, 2003). Each of three researchers independently read the tweets, coded them, and then shared their codes with each other. Subsequently, we created an imaginary blog by a student, representing a collective voice. This blog enabled the voices to be shared without identifying any specific Twitter user.
The initial interpretations from the data were used to continue discussions around ways to enhance student-centred curricula by listening to what girls have to say about PE. By using tweets as the data source, elements of naturally occurring talk between tweeters and their (imagined) audiences could be accessed. Tweeters’ positioning of themselves as students who love or hate PE, contributes to a cyber identity that may or may not reflect how they actually engage in PE / produce an identity as student. We raise questions around the use of Twitter as a source of an authentic voice and consider the ethical dilemmas in using Twitter as a means to understand identity construction.

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